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The NCAA vs. North Carolina heads to a familiar phase -- waiting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- North Carolina wrapped up its two-day hearing in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions on Thursday, and now the university gets to hurry up and wait on the ultimate outcome.

That does not necessarily mean a resolution is in sight. It could be months before the committee announces a decision on possible punishment related to its investigation into bogus classes in the African and Afro-American Studies Department. Even then, North Carolina has the right to file an appeal, extending the case even further.

After three-plus years, what is a little more time?

North Carolina arrived at the Opryland Hotel ready to aggressively defend itself against five major allegations, including improper benefits and lack of institutional control. The contingent representing the university was so large, tables and chairs inside the closed-door hearing had to be placed in a stadium-seating type arrangement to make room for everyone.

Men's basketball coach Roy Williams, women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell and football coach Larry Fedora all arrived with their own attorneys. Chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, compliance officials, the faculty athletics representative and attorneys who have been defending the case for the university also were in the room.

So was women's basketball academic counselor Jan Boxill, charged with providing extra benefits in the form of impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements for women's basketball players.

So was former African Studies Department employee Deborah Crowder, charged with violating principles of ethical conduct and extra-benefit legislation in connection with certain bogus classes in the department.

The NCAA alleges the athletic department leveraged its relationship with Crowder and department chair Julius Nyang'oro to obtain special arrangements for student-athletes, a violation of extra-benefit legislation. As a result, the NCAA alleges many at-risk students, particularly in the sports of football and men's basketball, used these courses to stay academically eligible.

Therein lies the heart of the case: North Carolina vehemently denies its student-athletes gained an extra benefit by taking these courses because they were available for the entire student body. The university also does not believe student-athletes were given greater access to these courses at a disproportionate rate. Further, the university has been steadfast in its argument that these irregular courses remain an academic matter, and the NCAA has no jurisdiction to intervene.

How well North Carolina made that argument over these past two days and 15 hours' worth of discussions could very well determine how severely the NCAA punishes the university. Let's remember there have been three versions of the notice of allegations the NCAA sent to North Carolina in this case, which began in 2014. In the second, all references to improper benefits and the men's basketball and football teams were erased.

Some have called North Carolina foolish for not accepting that amended notice and moving forward. But the university is so adamant this this entire case is not an NCAA matter, it pressed forward. A third and final notice of allegations put improper benefits back in, putting possible sanctions against men's basketball and football into the fold.

The one constant in all three notices: the charge of lack of institutional control, the most serious charge levied against any institution accused of NCAA wrongdoing. Again, North Carolina has argued there is no basis for this charge for the same reasons.

It is impossible to tell what the committee will do. In its last response to the university in May, the NCAA remained skeptical about the university's arguments, rejecting the notion this was only an academic matter. It also is problematic for North Carolina that it embraced the independent investigation headed by Kenneth Wainstein in 2014.

The wide-range report was the most in-depth report to date, and found student-athletes accounted for 47.6 percent of enrollment in the paper classes Nyang'oro and Crowder developed; and many were directed to the classes by academic counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes. UNC has since disputed some of his findings and methodology in putting the report together.

One more point to keep in mind as the NCAA begins the long deliberation process: What happened in previous cases cannot be used as a boilerplate to guess at what it will do with North Carolina.

At this point, even university officials would be guessing at what will happen. In the direst scenario for the university, its men's basketball national championships from 2005 and 2009 are stripped while men's basketball, football and women's basketball lose scholarships, postseason opportunities and face years of probation. In the best-case scenario, the committee revisits the charges and reverts to the second notice of allegations, removing any mention of improper benefits. In that case, men's basketball keeps its banners. Best-case would also feature lack of institutional control charge being dropped.

North Carolina and NCAA officials left the hearing Thursday without any comment. There will be plenty of time for that once the committee issues its ruling.

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